Broken Glass Pieces  by Jes Reynolds (CC Licenced, Flickr)

Broken Glass Pieces
by Jes Reynolds
(CC Licenced, Flickr)

Every so often, Facebook posts arrive, claiming that life was better in the old times. Kids were far freer. Parents were less protective. Kids spoke to each other and were not constantly absorbed by video games or hooked into their iPods and iPhones.

While I am not necessarily disputing these claims – life has changed without doubt – I think there is a great risk of over-sentimentalising the past, particularly when it comes to child safety.

In decades gone, we as kids could roam the neighbourhood as we wished. We had no use for seatbelts in cars and we would often sit in the front passenger seat. There was less protection in field sports and if you got hit you wore it as a badge of honour. We all got measles and mumps and it didn’t do us any harm. Or parents and teachers slapped us for disobedience and that didn’t hurt us much either. We could run in the schoolyards and disputes were sorted out by fights at the back of the tennis courts.

That we survived such childhoods relatively unscathed is not an indication of things being better back then. These stories merely tell us that we were lucky. There are kids, largely unknown to us, who did get lost or injured on their adventures away from home. There were kids killed and maimed in bad car accidents (which, incidentally, were 4 times more frequent in the 1970s). The same went for sports injuries and fights. We have forgotten the children who suffered lifelong injuries and even death, from contracting the measles. Some kids suffered dreadfully from classroom and domestic violence. These kids were not as lucky as we were.

Our much derided health and safety culture has made life much safer for our kids. Many of the safety measures we deride as “health and safety gone mad” had real life tragedies underlying them – tragedies that could have been prevented, given a little foresight. Life really wasn’t as safe for us back then. Just because we didn’t die or receive grave injuries is no excuse for action. We can’t use our own fortunate happenstance as an argument that things were better. The wider picture tells a different story.